Rare murder and manslaughter charges spurred by a woman’s suicide were thrown out against a southern Minnesota man accused of abusing his longtime girlfriend to the point that she took her own life.
A felony stalking count is the lone remaining charge against 35-year-old Long Vang of Stewartville in connection with the December 2015 death of Jessica Haban, the mother of his two children.
Olmsted County District Judge Debra A. Jacobson, acting on a defense motion, last week dismissed third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter counts against Vang.
In her ruling, Jacobson wrote that “the court acknowledges and understands the cycle of domestic violence and does not condone the actions of the defendant. The court recognizes … the tragedy of [Haban’s] death, but the court must also recognize the statutes and prevailing case law at issue.”
Therefore, the judge concluded, “there is not sufficient evidence … to proceed to trial” on the murder and manslaughter counts.
Assistant County Attorney Byron Black quickly filed his intention to seek a sentence longer than the 10-year term that state guidelines set for stalking.
Black noted that Haban was abused by Vang in the presence of a child, “was particularly vulnerable due to [her] reduced physical or mental capacity,” and was treated with “particular cruelty.”
Vang’s attorney, Duane Kennedy, said Tuesday his client intends to plead not guilty to the remaining charge at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, when the defense will seek to have Vang released from jail on his own recognizance.
“He’s lost his home, his job, his car, his freedom and his children,” Kennedy said of Vang, who has been in custody since June 10 in lieu of $100,000 bail. “The consequences have been unbelievable on charges that we felt were unfounded in the first place.”
County Attorney Mark Ostrem, who brought the unusual murder charges in June, did not return a call for comment.
“I believe Mr. Vang’s conduct directly contributed to the death of his partner,” Ostrem said at the time. “Mr. Vang was clearly aware of the precarious state of his partner’s emotions following her hospitalization, and he continued the relentless contacts until her death.”
Charging an abuser with murder for another person’s suicide is a rarity in Minnesota, if not unprecedented. Ostrem said previously he knew that meant extra pressure on his office.
The abuse inflicted on Haban was wide-ranging and persistent, and some interactions came despite a no-contact order from a court, according to charges. She was sometimes knocked unconscious, had her hair pulled and was thrown against a wall. Vang put a knife to her throat once but did not cut her during a gathering at a home in Austin, Minn., according to the charges.
Jealousy prompted one outburst, and financial difficulties were behind another. In one instance, Vang poured vegetable oil “all over” Haban because she “had bad in her,” the complaint read.
But it was Vang’s final blow — this one emotional — that apparently pushed Haban over the brink, according to the complaint. She told a county social worker assigned to her domestic abuse case that Vang was pressuring her to leave in-patient mental health treatment and return home. Otherwise, Vang told her, she would be institutionalized and lose custody of their children.
Haban was discharged from treatment on Dec. 13 and killed herself three days later.